Pro-government and critical media grapple with social welfare figures

On Monday, the Islamist daily Yeni Şafak led a pack of government-friendly newspapers carrying Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s made-for-headlines quote declaring that Turkey “will not leave the seas to bandits.”

The president’s statement follows weeks of warnings from Turkish officials, including Defence Minister Hulusi Akar, over the exploitation of resources in the contested Eastern Mediterranean maritime territories close to the island of Cyprus.

Turkey says part of the area claimed by the Greek Cypriot administration lies on Turkey’s continental shelf, and has sparked tensions by beginning energy exploration activities with its seismic and drilling vessels in the region.

Aydınlık, a left-wing nationalist daily, carried a front-page item on the new round of U.S. sanctions on Iran, which were put into effect on Monday.

The newspaper, which is known for taking a stance opposing U.S. foreign policy, reported that “noone was listening” to the U.S. embargo in its headline piece, going on to list countries, including Britain, Russia, India and China, that had opposed the measures. Turkey was one of eight countries granted an exemption to the sanctions.

Secularist daily BirGün’s front page on Tuesday reported on the previous month’s inflation figures, released on Monday, which despite reaching the 15-year high of 25.24 percent went largely unreported on Turkish front pages.

The continuing rise in inflation showed the government’s attempts to tackle the problem by encouraging businesses to discount their products had failed, said BirGün.

Timothy Ash, an economist monitoring the issue, has said inflation is likely to fall in coming months, but warned that the central bank must hold its nerve and keep interest rates at 24 percent even if the country enters an expected recession.

The Iran sanctions took the front page on newspapers including Yeni Şafak and Yeni Akit, which called the embargo “dead at birth.”

The government cheerleader Star, meanwhile, ran a front-page story declaring Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) the only ruling party in the world that had provided every part of society with guarantees over its 16 years in power.

“Turkey is the number one country in the world that has reached out to all the downtrodden, shared its bread and provided humanitarian relief,” gushed Star, declaring Turkey “the world leader in social security” in its headline.

The Iran sanctions were back on the agenda on Wednesday, when Yeni Şafak devoted its front page again to statements made by Erdoğan.

The Turkish president was again drawing on his anti-imperialist credentials, complaining that he did not wish to live in an imperialist world as he vowed not to cease trade with Iran whether or not Turkey is granted an exemption by the United States. It was a perfectly reasonable stance to take, since Turkey relies on Iranian energy imports to meet a large proportion of its needs and, as Erdoğan himself noted, a cut in trade could leave Turks unable to heat their homes in Winter.

The front page of Türkiye, another pro-government daily, reported a step taken by the United States that will have an impact on its relations with Turkey – the decision to add three leaders of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to a bounty list offering up to $5 million for information leading to their capture.

The PKK has been engaged in an on-and-off armed struggle with Turkish armed forces for more than three decades, and is a group designated as a terrorist organisation by both Turkey and the United States. In recent years, however, the United States has been accused by Turkish leaders and media outlets of supporting the PKK, since it has been arming and fighting alongside Syrian Kurdish affiliates of the group.

Secularist daily Cumhuriyet’s front page carried a story that may have shed light on massive corruption in the Turkish government. The Turkish Court of Accounts Auditing Board Deputy Chairman Fikret Çöker was transferred to another position 12 years working with the institution. The transfer happens to coincide with the release of a 2017 audit that has revealed a large number of irregular transactions during that period.

On Thursday Star led for the second day running with a report on a statement by a deputy from the Republican People’s Party (CHP) that has proven to be something of an own goal for the main opposition party.

CHP deputy Öztürk Yılmaz said during a television programme that the Islamic call to prayer, as well as the holy book, should be read in Turkish so that Turkish Muslims who do not speak Arabic can understand them.

The statement reinvigorated decades of controversy – Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic and the CHP, mandated that Turkish mosques should read the call to prayer in 1932, but the measure proved hugely unpopular among pious Muslims, was rescinded when the CHP lost power in 1950, and has been held by some quarters against the party ever since.

Cumhuriyet devoted its headline story to the Turkish doctors who launched a one-month protest this month against new legislation that could severely impact many of their colleagues.

A bill introduced by the AKP will prohibit doctors who have been removed from their jobs by presidential decree from employment in the vast majority of Turkish hospitals. This could potentially impact between 5,000 and 6,000 doctors who were accused of links to outlawed organisations in the aftermath of the failed July 2016 coup attempt.

On Friday the issue graced the front pages of the liberal Islamist daily Karar and BirGün, which said many of the doctors had been dismissed arbitrarily.

Cumhuriyet’s front page on the day carried a riposte to Star’s declaration of the Turkish government’s virtues in providing for society.

The newspaper reported figures pointing to a serious poverty problem in Turkey, where it said 22 million people – over a quarter of the population – required government aid to get by.

Around 2.7 million of those required food aid, 2.3 million children require government assistance to attend school, and 6.8 million people are unable to make their national insurance payments, the newspaper said.

The pro-government daily Sabah, however, had a different take on the figures, lauding the AKP government for its 2019 budget, which said would include benefits provisions for “new mothers to students, company bosses fallen on hard times to newly married couples.”

The newspaper listed in a side box the type of benefits offered by the government, which included one-off 5,000 lira payments to the most successful 1,000 students in the university entrance exams, a 150-lira monthly payment per child for mothers of multiple children, a 34-million lira benefits package for seasonal workers and employment counselling for 4 million youths.